I am selfishly commandeering this blog to unleash a week’s full of thoughts. If you’re a pet owner, you will understand and I’m hoping this story can help at least one person when they too face the gut-wrenching scenario of a sick animal. I am writing this as I lean against the wall of my living room floor atop my bedroom mattress. I can’t shake the nerves, I am mentally drained yet my spirit is strong.
Last Tuesday was supposed to be an important but relatively routine day. Our little french bulldog Joey was due to finally undergo his neutering at the veterinarian. A 10AM appointment and a 6PM pickup. No biggie. I had been through a day just like this before with my big bulldog Mickey about 12 years ago. As a man, it’s always an odd and slightly guilty day sending your pup to lose his parts but of course, a necessary one. Within hours, Sara and I’s lives were turned upside down. Joey had a massive seizure. And then another. And then another. And then several more.
The vet frantically called us to pick him up and rush him to the Veterinary Emergency Clinic just off Davenport Avenue. It was grey, pouring rain, we were scared and Joey was in bad shape. I pulled up front, dashed in the door to find Joey in the arms of a nurse wrapped in a blanket. My heart sank like I had swallowed a brick. We returned to the car for the longest 18 minute journey of our lives. Navigating through traffic in a rain storm with a baby bulldog slipping away in the arms of his mother next to me was something I will never forget. Life is hard but this felt unnecessarily cruel. His body was flailing, he was making noises that didn’t resemble the goofy snorts and squeaks we were used to from our little guy. I drove as Joey had multiple seizures beside me.
We made it to the hospital, rushed him in the door and directly into the arms of an awaiting nurse. I turned around and had never felt so much emotion before in my life. My eyes immediately blurred from tears. I turned away from Sara to hide them. She deserved the opportunity to cry but I knew right there that I needed to be our source of strength and calmness. I was a puddle inside but I knew that was going to be my role.
20 gruelling minutes went by until we found ourselves in a treatment room with Dr. Greg Kilburn and his partner Dr. Kara Wallach. We stared at the doctors looking for reassuring news but we found none. We were essentially told to expect the worst and even given encouragement to give up now. To make the decision ourselves to say goodbye and let Joey sleep. I couldn’t. Here I was appointing myself the pillar of strength for Sara and I, I’m supposed to be the realist here, the rock, but I just couldn’t accept their reason. We are talking about the sweetest little guy. He’s still a baby. He’s young and playful and strong. Joey is the most innocent living thing I have ever met and you’re telling me we should just let him go?
Sara was a mess and rightfully so. If you’ve met her or follow along her IG journey, it’s Joey this and Joey that! He’s an extension of her and she was on the verge of losing that in one sudden crash. I then started to get this strange sort of tunnel vision and told Dr. Kilburn that we just needed to hold on and give Joey a shot to survive. He once again proposed putting Joey to sleep, he suggested shoving Joey in an MRI machine for diagnostics but we NEEDED to let him fight this and only this battle. To make it through today. We left the room and found our new home in the waiting room. The room became all we knew for many days as we talked out different scenarios and prepared ourselves for the crushing news. We did our best to keep things in perspective, to force our thoughts into realizing that sometimes things like this happen. We openly talked about how mothers go through this with their children and that losing a child was far more tragic. But no matter how hard we tried to talk ourselves out of the heartbreak, it was there. When you welcome a furry animal into your home you inherit the responsibility of ensuring that animal has the very best life he/she can. The thought that we couldn’t see that through was hurtful and draped a heavy feeling of guilt.
But there was just something that left us with a strange hope. A hope that felt almost dirty to talk about but it was deafening in my own head. After 24 hours of anxiety, Joey unconscious in the Intensive Care Unit we actually received a glimmer of tangible hope. The seizures had stopped.
At risk of pneumonia, his little body flooded with antibiotics and anti seizure medications, Joey was still a very long shot to survive. Day 2 was just as stressful and the doctors faces remained long and rather unfriendly. He was still exhibiting suspicious movements and the clinic refused to show any optimism. I wanted to tell Dr. Kilburn to fuck himself for suggesting to say goodbye the day before but I started to realize he was simply addressing the situation honestly and well, professionally. It would have been irresponsible and inconsiderate to try and make us feel better with misleading optimism. We spent the day back and forth from the clinic totally unable to focus on anything in our work lives. Our emails halted, my content became meaningless and I only spoke to those closest to me. I tried to find comfort in Junior but I couldn’t. I felt uncomfortable knowing Joey was fighting for his life. We barely slept. I hadn’t prayed in a long, long time but I found myself muttering at night to give us a few more days. To keep his body still, his brain at rest and his heart still pounding.
Day 3 was strange. We authorized a CT scan and then started another day of waiting. My mother walked in the doors of the clinic and it immediately made us feel better. The one woman on this planet that truly knew what we were going through. We lost our big beloved bulldog Mickey two years ago and she’s really never been the same since. Mickey was an extension of her and while he lived a long happy 16 years, he still was gone. Instead of being somber, my mother walked in with her game face on. She talked about movies and fashion and this and that and it immediately put Sara at ease. It was the nicest thing someone could do and I appreciated it more than words could say. I could see Sara’s strength and sense of reason was coming to the surface after the shock of the first two days. She was becoming at peace with what had transpired, how far we had to go and that we were soon going to have to start the healing process. I was proud of her. Meanwhile, I paced the waiting room uncontrollably looking down the ICU hallway awaiting the CT scan results. I was restless and eager for answers.
The docs eventually arrived and walked us over to the neurology department to review. Essentially, there wasn’t much to see. Joey had been loosely diagnosed with either encephalitis (acute swelling of the brain that can be quite difficult to mange) or hydrocephalus which is fluid in the brain. Not an ideal condition but manageable. The doc was actually hoping to find hydrocephalus but there were no obvious signs. After leaving the room we talked like football players in a huddle scheming to find a play to run. Ok, so it wasn’t the easier condition to manage but don’t ya think the doctor had a really positive tone? We all agreed he did. We actually were just subtly offered optimism and it absolutely lifted our spirits. We were told to go home and we finally did. For the first time we were appropriately yet carefully hopeful.
The next morning at 8:12, the phone rang. Dr Wallach had been a blessing the last few days because she knew what we were feeling and she never left a thing unexplained. She was so precise and knowledgeable. She stated that Joey had been making progress…that he was eating…a little goofy from the meds but actually might be ready to go home. Wait, what? What the FUCK did she just say!? We were instructed to come at noon. We twiddled our thumbs for a few hours, ran two errands just so we weren’t staring at the wall and made our way up. Within 15 minutes, Joey made his way down the corridor. Not proudly prancing on his own accord but wrapped in a blanket like ET. Yet THIS TIME, he had life in him. I wanted to squeeze him but I just kept him close. We took on a drugstore of meds for our little guy and made our way to the car. We drove Joey home.
It is has been exactly one week since he came home. We have spent the entire week on a mattress and we have slowly witnessed Joey get back to normal. He’s been spoiled with everything a little dog could dream of, has adopted about 25 new nicknames including Root Beer Jelly Bean….He went from walking into walls from dopiness to sprinting up and down the hallways…to even starring in a Dyson national social media marketing campaign yesterday. Junior who spent the week at my mum’s getting fat on cheese and cookies is back too and they’re doing great.
But here’s the tricky part, we don’t really know what the future holds. Joey absolutely has a brain abnormality of some kind and we simply don’t know when or if it will be problematic again. He could seize again tomorrow, next month or never again. It’s an uneasy feeling we will just have get used to. The mildly crazy bulldog parent in me is going shopping for a video baby monitor today so we can keep an eye on him although I am pretty sure it’s simply going to catch him peeing on the floor, chewing on the couch and licking the balls he miraculous now gets to keep.
Final thought, we are lucky. Joey is lucky. There’s a lot of really big things going on in this world but it feels good to experience one of the happy stories. Life now goes on and although Joey will always be at risk, he kicked ass getting through this event and he deserves this extra time. I want to extend a massive thank you for the entire staff at VEC for their care. You are a huge part of this story.